Trial Limitations – is it really that bad?

When you Uninstall Surfulater a web page opens with a short questionnaire requesting  some feedback on why it is being uninstalled. From time to time I am somewhat taken aback at peoples comments. There seems to be a real disconnect between them and us, which is worrisome. Here is an example I received today.

Q) To change your mind and continue using Surfulater we would have to?
For the price of this software the trial is extremely limiting for us to determine its true useability.
The standards nowadays for the retail software industry is to allow the prospective buyer to truely test drive a full product’s potential during the 21 day trial period; especially with the restrictive return policy of your company.

Here’s my problem. The one and only limitation in the Trial Version of Surfulater is that it doesn’t allow you to create new knowledge bases. It comes with a Knowledge Base which includes some sample content which you can delete if you want. There are no restrictions on the number of articles you can add to this Knowledge Base, the type of articles you can create, nor any other limitations of any kind. That said I agree it would be better if you could create new empty KB’s and we may well enable this at some point, but I hardly consider it’s a show stopper.

The other comment which really got to me is “with the restrictive return policy of your company” – huh! If you look at our ‘Buy Now‘ page you will see:

Return/Refund Policy

Please download and evaluate the Surfulater Free Trial before purchasing, to avoid unnecessary refunds. Our FAQ page has information on extending your free trial period. If for any reason you aren’t 100% satisfied with your purchase, contact us within 30 days for a full refund.

I must be missing something, but how on earth is this restrictive?

The Feedback Form ends as follows:

If you would like us to contact you please enter your E-mail address.

Unfortunately most people don’t afford us the opportunity to respond, so there’s nothing we can do other than write blog posts like this one. (:


Ticking all of the right boxes

When evaluating a product there are various key factors we need to assess such as:

  • Does it solve my particular problem.
  • Is it easy to use.
  • Does it have the set of features and capabilities that I need.
  • Will it continue to meet my needs as I become more adept.
  • Does it include good documentation.
  • Will it save me time (will I be more productive).
  • Is it worth the cost (both financial and time to learn & use).
  • Is it robust and well supported.
  • Also see: Before purchasing software

Continue reading “Ticking all of the right boxes”

We should never expect much from free

When I did the big update to the Surfulater Blog last month I included a social sharing widget SexyBookmarks by Shareaholic. These widgets let visitors share details of our posts on Facebook, Twitter etc. and E-mail friends about them.

I did a quick evaluation of the most popular WordPress Social Bookmarking services and widgets and SexyBookmarks rated highly and looked pretty. Unlike most other programs of its type, it didn’t use any 3rd party service/web site for its operation, which was another big plus. Continue reading “We should never expect much from free”

Why I use Surfulater

I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the diverse range of uses Surfulater is being put to and the diversity of our customer base. This is both a strength and a weakness for Surfulater. It’s ability to be used so successfully by so many people for so many different tasks, is a real strength that speaks well for the underlying design and its flexibility and adaptability. The weakness comes in, in our difficulty in promoting Surfulater to such a diverse user base. It is clearly much easier to sell a product into a narrower, well defined market. That said we are making some steps to be more focused in our marketing efforts, which we hope will be fruitful. Of course for our users, this isn’t a weakness at all, far from it in fact.

And now to the real reason for this article. I’ve always been very interested in getting hold of real life user stories and I know our customers are interested in reading about how others are using Surfulater. J.William LaValley MD kindly stepped up and offered to write an article on his experience with Surfulater, which I present here in full and unedited, of course.

Why I use Surfulater.
I’m a “biogeek” physician who uses the internet for many hours each week for medical science research.  My projects require the ability to accumulate large amounts of related scientific articles and the capacity to access them, with annotations, comments and related links – quickly, efficiently and reliably.
I must be able to find new undiscovered relationships among complex textual and graphic information that has not been described before.  In the course of this study on the internet over the last 9 years I have tried numerous different applications to help me capture, store and organize the massive amount of information in this endeavor.
For a year I used Onfolio and it was slow, very cumbersome and inefficient – and it frequently crashed.  The files created in Onfolio frequently corrupted and could not be re-accessed – “not good”. 
Next, I tried Mind Manager.  It helped me map out the general organizational structure of my projects and to link data ‘notes’ and internet links to various topics.  Mind Manager was a better solution for me than Onfolio.
However, when using large amounts of textual data and related files (and I do mean really large) Mind Manager was (and is) slow and laborious to capture, link, organize, re-access, and use the information.  The biggest problem is the Mind Manager would frequently “freeze” when I tried to link the Mind Manager topics to Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel files.  Sure, Mind Manager can perform this function as it describes…the problem is that it takes a l-o-n-g time to do so when there are multiple topics linked to multiple portions of the same Excel file – and frequently the entire app just “freezes” – not good.
The result is the data is lost in Mind Manager and the app had to be closed down, restarted and the work was often lost – “worse than not good”.
Then, I stumbled onto Surfulater.  “Surfulater” seemed like an odd word to me – yet it made sense because internet surfing is such a big part of my work.  Surfulater has trial version that is risk-free so I tried it.
Wow.  My professional life changed.  Surfulater is literally saving lives by the amazing functional ability to gather large amounts of specific, targeted internet information and data – “on the fly” with just a few clicks.
Surfulater allows me to now literally ‘zoom’ through large amounts of information very quickly.  With Surfulater, I immediately and easily organize information, link new data to related data in the same file, link new data to related data in external files and folders on the same and other hard drives, and efficiently copy data to easily accessed related databases.   Surfulater lets me easily include comments, highlighting, do text formatting and editing, capture graphics, add links from related web pages…and much more.
Quickly and easily, from within Surfulater (and without opening my email application) I send the captured data to colleagues by built-in email function that automatically loads their addresses with a single click.  They can view it in their email without Surfulater.
I send this same data by email to other Surfulater users who plug it into their Surfulater databases and can now use it for their work.  I use Surfulater to create quick and simple web pages of simple HTML from the data that I have created myself.  Amazing.
Surfulater lets me surf swiftly while nearly effortlessly ‘scooping’ up important relevant information, into efficiently organized, easily accessed information.
Surfulater organizes my information in simple-to-use tree format.  Links made in Surfulater are lightning fast – there are no “freeze-up” delays in Surfulater when you are surfing fast, capturing information quickly, and linking it for re-access later
Surfulater lets me search any information in the Surfulater database by text word and returns each ‘hit’ with a highlighted reference.  I can see each “article” with one click.   Surfulater lets me sort the information by date captured or alphanumeric order of the title of the “article”.   Surfulater has advanced sorting features that allows me to sort sub-topics only without having to sort the entire database.
Surfulater lets me copy and paste sub-topics of one database into other Surfulater databases in a simple 2-click step – “very handy”.
Surfulater is the best data-gathering tool for any serious internet surfer.  The Surfulater Forum is actually relevant and helpful for answering questions, solving problems, and requesting new features.
Surfulater creator and code-author, Neville Franks, is extraordinarily responsive in the Surfulater forum and in developing customer-requested features in each update.
If you surf the internet and you want to capture, organize, save, inter-connect, link, search, re-access, send, sort, and otherwise use the information for any reason, then your best solution is to “surfulate” with Surfulater.
A dedicated Surfulater

 J.William LaValley MD 

Thanks again William. If you would like to follow in Williams footsteps we would love to hear from you. Contact details in the usual place, here. 

Its not unusual to… (feel free to sing along)

It’s not unusual for folks to tell us how much they love using Surfulater, but we don’t get much feedback about the Surfulater web site. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I received the following e-mail from Deborah Merritt who has recently discovered and purchased Surfulater.


I’ve been playing with this for just a short time, but I love the program.  I have no experience at all with programs like this.  But for a long time I have wanted some sort of program to organize my research.  I’m a professor and started out in the days when we used notecards!  Just out of curiosity, I put “research software” into google and started looking at a few of the programs that turned up.  I hadn’t even thought about a program that primarily organized material from the web.  But as I thought about it, I realized that most of my research now–even from scholarly journals–is online.  So I kept browsing.  I liked your site because (1) it referred to full text searching, and (2) there were “fun” features and it didn’t seem to take itself too seriously.  I decided to give the free download a try.

After just an hour or so, I was hooked.  I happily purchased the software and have been continuing to enjoy it.  Thanks so much for developing this.  I’m starting slow, with the basic features, but I’m sure that soon I’ll be checking the blog and forums for more advanced ideas.  Cheers!  Debby

Deborah J Merritt
John Deaver Drinko/Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law
Moritz College of Law
The Ohio State University 

When we designed the Surfulater web site I wanted to make sure it looked good and got our message across as quickly and simply as possible. Often you visit a Web site and leave without having any idea what the site was about. I’ve read statistics that indicate you have about 5 seconds to grab someone’s attention, before they’ll give up and move on. When your business relies on sales from your Web site, you really do want folks to stay somewhat longer than those 5 small seconds. I’ve written here before about having to pander to search engines, instead of writing for your readers, which is really infuriating. Getting the balance right is the hard part, a bit like writing software.

So it was great to get Deborah’s e-mail and as I told her at the time it made my day, which hadn’t been a particularly good one! We’ve had a few more exchanges since and I’m pleased to say Deborah is one very, very happy Surfulater user. This is an excerpt from an e-mail I received from Debby yesterday

I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record, but this really was a tremendous help in gathering info.  I read lots of medical journals online, in addition to more popular websites, and it used to drive me crazy keeping all of this stuff straight.  So thanks again for everything!  Debby

In closing I want to let you know how we can help folks by providing Surfulater discounts. If you run a Forum, a Blog, a Web site, a User Group, a Newsletter etc. we can provide your readers or members with a discount. Of course this helps us by getting more people to find out about Surfulater and it helps you with special offers you can provide to your readers. It was opportune to mention this here as Debby moderates a forum and I’ve provided her members with a discount. So let’s help each other. Just drop me an email and we’ll get started – see the Surfulater Contact page for my e-mail address.

Until next time, have a great week,

PS. Another great new Surfulater release out soon.

Goal-Free Living With Stephen Shapiro

I did my usual weekend house chores which gives me the opportunity to listen to Podcasts, which is something I relish. I want to recommend a great interview that Michael D. Pollock of Solostream Webstudio did with Stephen Shapiro about his book and web site Goal-Free Living.

Stephen talks about how many successful people he’s interviewed don’t equate their success to lots of goal setting and how people become stressed by goal setting. Likewise todo lists can become a real burden and get in the way of what needs to be done. Stephen keeps a short todo list with just the top priority items on it. Then he has a can do list for everything else. Items move across from the can do list to the todo list as necessary. I do like the sound of this.

Other concepts Michael and Stephen discuss include “Use a Compass, Not a Map” where you find the intersecting point between passion (what you love to do), skills (what you are good at), and value (what creates value – for you and others). If you can achieve the right amount of passion, skills and value you can be successful in whatever it is you want to achieve.

I’ve always been passionate about what I do and what I deliver to my customers. And I’ve always felt I deliver real value. Skills is where I come up short. Not in in the ability to create good products, but in my abilities to be a great marketer and salesperson. People that run small business’s need to be skilled in many different areas, which is simply a fact of life, so we do the best we can and get on with it.

I’m sure you will find SavvySoloCAST #29: Goal-Free Living With Stephen Shapiro a great way to start your week.

Jumping hurdles

When I was a young fellow at secondary school we had to jump hurdles in the physical education class. I have to tell you I was petrified every time we had to do this. I was short and the hurdles were these obstacles I had real difficulty getting over. Most of the time we both ended up horizontal on the ground.

These days there are still plenty of hurdles around. Sometimes programming seems to be all about getting over one hurdle only to reach the next one all too quickly. And sometimes the hurdles seem to be more like brick walls! In the end though we always get to where we want to go, even if by a circuitous route.

A far bigger hurdle for me these days is getting more people to know about Surfulater and to understand and appreciate how useful a tool it can be for them. You have no idea how frustrating this is. If Surfulater was just another piece of poorly designed, poorly implemented software that didn’t meet any reel need, then there would be good reasons why folks weren’t interested in it. But that isn’t the case at all. Our users think Surfulater is a truly wonderful product, and of course they are right. Now this is great news and, as I wrote to a new user Sidney Whitehead yesterday, it is a great motivator which helps keep Surfulater on a steady growth path.

This is an excerpt from yesterday’s e-mail from Sidney:

Congratulations on creating such a well thought out and useful product.  I was so thrilled to find precisely what I needed in Surfulater that three days was enough to convince me to purchase the product.  Anyone accustomed to filing clippings from magazines and newspapers should now be relieved that they can do the same thing with added functionality in an electronic format.  I just happened to stumble across your product after doing a Google search on “saving web pages”, in which Surfulater appeared as the tenth entry at the bottom of the page.  I’m convinced that if more people were aware that such a fantastic piece of software existed, they would convert immediately.

I’m convinced that Sydney is absolutely correct in his assessment. And therein lies the problem – getting more people to be Surfulater aware.

In my mission for Surfulater success I’ve been trying to find solutions to my marketing problems. I’ve talked to and communicated with various marketing people and companies, but so far haven’t found anyone that could make a real difference, well at least not in a cost effective way. One person that has been helpful is John Seiffer who is a small business coach. Our discussions inspired John to write Marketing, Sales & Dating on his blog. I’ve replied with a comment which elaborates on the issues I’m facing. I was going to re-post that here but decided it would be best read in context with John’s article.

Marketing is hard, no doubt about it. It is something you need to devote a lot of time and energy to, to get anywhere. Occasionally luck is on your side, or you happen to know someone that knows someone that …, well you get the idea. And things get in your way, like the need to continually improve the product, fix problems, provide support, talk to your spouse, eat and sleep. And if you think marketing is hard then try programming.

Ok, let me wrap this up. Go and read John’s blog post and my reply. If you know someone that knows someone, please put me in touch. If you have any ideas that can help with spreading the word about Surfulater, please do let me know. And finally if you know someone who is good at marketing or at least is up to a challenge let’s talk.

Surfulater web site updated – Your Help needed

I’ve just spent some time updating the Surfulater web site, due largely to some prodding by Stephane Grenier. At Stephane’s suggestion I’ve added a new page Success Stories and Testimonials which contains some great stories from our customers and a range of testimonials from users and reviewers.

We continually hear from people how impressed they are with Surfulater and how much it is helping them, which is absolutely fantastic, however it is quite difficult to get detailed success stories. They take a lot of effort on your part and everyone is so stretched for time these days. I’d like to give a special thanks to Anthony Yeats, Cambridge Earth Sciences Limited for his great story.

I’m very keen to get more of these stories for two reasons. The first and obvious one is to put them on the Web site, but more importantly I want to get a better picture of what kinds of projects or tasks Surfulater is being used for. I do know that Surfulater is being used by lots of people for lots of different purposes, but if I can get more detailed information I can apply that towards the future development and direction that Surfulater takes. So I’d like to issue this small plea for your assistance – help!!

Moving right along. I’ve also added a Site Guide page that will be of particular interest to our first time visitors. The Site Guide includes links to each page, along with a brief description of the topic of the associated page.

Other than that I did a few little tweaks here and there.

I’ve been asked on another forum:

Could you share your product “vision” with us? From its name and description it seems clearly web-content targetted, however its feature set –and the development planned- sound more ambitious.

This was definitely pause for thought and I’ve already put pen to paper. I’m not into motherhood statements, so it might not be your normal “vision” statement, but hopefully I’ll convey what I think has been asked of me. Expect to see something quite soon.

If your software was on a date…

Monday mornings can be a hard slog, especially when you’ve worked a bit on the weekend and it is hard to know where the working week starts and ends, sometimes. That said I’ve had quite a good morning this Monday morning and am that much closer to the next Surfulater release.

I did hit a small roadblock though, stopped for a Coffee and hit the Blogs and my day has well and truly been made by a post by Kathy Sierra over at Creating passionate users titled If your software was on a date….

Kathy asks

“How would your software (or product, service, book, cause, etc.) behave on a date?” 

and goes on to list her “Dating Rules For Software” which include:

  • Look your best
  • Be fun. Don’t be negative. Be the one others want to be around.
  • Be trustworthy and consistent.
  • Don’t be fake.
  • Be polite, be helpful.
  • Be forgiving.
  • Be sensitive, be a good listener.
  • Don’t assume I’m an expert.
  • Be fun.
  • Don’t assume there’s no competition.
  • Check your ego with the valet parking attendant.
  • Married people really DO have more sex.

I loved reading this, the rules are down-to-earth, simple and sensible,yet so many software products would score poorly when judged against them. The explanations for each rule are a delight to read. It reminded me of “ABOUT FACE, THE ESSENTIALS OF USER INTERFACE DESIGN” by Alan Cooper which is a must read for all software developers. My approach to the design and implementation of the user interface for Surfulater was certainly influenced by Alan’s book.

I’d like to think Surfulater scores reasonably well against Kathy’s dating rules, but it is up to our users to pass judgment not me. I’d love to hear what you think.

Time to get back to working on my dating skills.